Consistent scaling of persistence time in metapopulations


  • Corresponding Editor: L. Stone.


Recent theory and experimental work in metapopulations and metacommunities demonstrates that long-term persistence is maximized when the rate at which individuals disperse among patches within the system is intermediate; if too low, local extinctions are more frequent than recolonizations, increasing the chance of regional-scale extinctions, and if too high, dynamics exhibit region-wide synchrony, and local extinctions occur in near unison across the region. Although common, little is known about how the size and topology of the metapopulation (metacommunity) affect this bell-shaped relationship between dispersal rate and regional persistence time. Using a suite of mathematical models, we examined the effects of dispersal, patch number, and topology on the regional persistence time when local populations are subject to demographic stochasticity. We found that the form of the relationship between regional persistence time and the number of patches is consistent across all models studied; however, the form of the relationship is distinctly different among low, intermediate, and high dispersal rates. Under low and intermediate dispersal rates, regional persistence times increase logarithmically and exponentially (respectively) with increasing numbers of patches, whereas under high dispersal, the form of the relationship depends on local dynamics. Furthermore, we demonstrate that the forms of these relationships, which give rise to the bell-shaped relationship between dispersal rate and persistence time, are a product of recolonization and the region-wide synchronization (or lack thereof) of population dynamics. Identifying such metapopulation attributes that impact extinction risk is of utmost importance for managing and conserving the earth's evermore fragmented populations.